The ethics of security locking of hardware

Radio Frequency Users Association of New Zealand (RFUANZ)

By Corey Weir, Chairman, RFUANZ
Monday, 20 January, 2020



The ethics of security locking of hardware

The ethics of security locking of hardware. Modern LMR equipment allows for security locking of radio hardware with either password protection for reading and/or writing of the programming information, or with a secure encrypted key that prevents unauthorised programming access to the radio.

These are great features for securing a radio to protect programming information. These features can also increase the likelihood of a stolen radio turning up at an authorised agent for ‘programming’ if the person buying or selling the radio is unable to program it due to it being locked.

However, these features can also be used by radio dealers, service providers and network operators to control configuration of radios they supply, essentially limiting the customer’s choices for ongoing service. Essentially, this prevents the owner of the hardware from having the device serviced or programmed by an alternative service agent or supplier (unless the password or security key is shared by the company/person who locked it). This is where the ethics of security locking come into discussion.

Customers purchasing radio terminals should be fully informed of the implications of locking the hardware, and consent should be confirmed as part of the supply. Written policy should also be developed, defining who holds and controls the keys, and how the customer can have their radio hardware unlocked if they do choose to use another supplier in the future. With some brands, if a security key is lost then even the supplier cannot circumvent the security, meaning that future updates or programming changes are not possible and the radio will no longer be serviceable.

Basic radio operation — what customers need to know. Common questions from customers when handling radios for the first time include: How do I use it? What does this button do? How long will the battery last? It’s easy when you’re in the industry and confronting these sorts of questions to think that people are having a laugh. But the reality is that if it doesn’t have a touch screen or a keypad it’s just a random piece of plastic, and how can the customer possibly get any value out of it?

The owner/manager or foreperson instantly sees the benefit of this technology; however, the worker potentially just sees the boss getting one over on them. Giving the group only a quick introduction to radios can result in fading out, unhelpful tangents and a belief that a simple thing is way too complex for the average worker.

However, once a user starts to operate the radio and they become comfortable in its operation then a whole new range of problems can arise — a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of confidence can produce a dangerous situation. This situation is mostly produced by workers who have used radios in a previous role but may not necessarily know what the new system is capable of or how it actually operates.

Perceived coverage problems, operation problems and poor battery management result in the radios not living up to expectations and can result in fruitless hours of fault-finding. So it’s well worth spending a few more minutes with the customer to convey some basic understanding of how radios work and the way the system is designed. Here are some of the things that can be covered:

  • What is the difference between a simplex repeater and a network?
  • What are the possible common problems that can be explained right from the beginning?
  • How do the chargers work?
  • What’s the best way to hold a radio and where do you talk into?
     

There are a few good courses on the market. The one that instantly comes to mind is a marine radio operator’s certificate. But now we’re getting way over the top.

If this is sounding all too familiar then please let the RFUANZ Committee know; we may be able to develop a basic commercial radio operation course for users, which in turn will help your business.

Become an approved radio engineer or approved certifier. RFUANZ is very pleased to advise that RSM will be hosting a workshop on 5 May 2020, at the Lower Hutt Convention Centre. This will coincide with the Comms Connect conference and exhibition, being held at the same venue.

The workshop (duration approximately six hours) is designed to encourage RFUANZ members and newcomers into becoming approved radio certifiers. Should you have any questions or need to know more, please contact info@rsm.govt.nz.

Criteria for how to become an approved radio engineer or certifier can be found on the RSM website at https://www.rsm.govt.nz/engineers-and-examiners/how-to-become-an-approved-radio-engineer-or-certifier/.

Corey Weir

Chairman, RFUANZ

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